Always running on empty? Try making these 6 simple changes to your sleep routine

Welcome to Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, where we’re taking a deep-dive into one of the most important (and elusive) factors in our day-to-day lives: sleep. To help us understand more about it, we’re inviting women to track their bedtime routines over a five-day period – and presenting these diaries to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan for analysis.  

In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 39-year-old CEO learns how to recharge her empty batteries despite the demands of her daily routine.

A little about me:

Age: 39

Occupation: CEO of an environmental technology company

Number of hours sleep you get each night: 6 hours

Number of hours sleep you wish you got each night: 8 hours

Do you measure your sleep in some way (e.g. using your phone or wearable): I use an Apple Watch

Any officially diagnosed sleep-related problems (insomnia/sleep apnea): none, but I do have a poor sleeping 4-year-old child who wakes me up a lot

How much water do you drink on average per day: 2 pints

How much exercise do you do on average per week: I walk to school with the kids every day but struggle to fit anything else in because I feel a lot of pressure on my time since working from home

Day 1

I head out to collect the kids at 3:30pm which disturbs my afternoon at work. I sit down with them for a bit before dinner, but end up falling asleep on the sofa. As a result, dinner is late, and we end up eating pizza takeaway at 7:30pm.

I take the kids up to bed at 8:30pm and take them through their bedtime routine, which takes about an hour. I also use this time to wash my face and put on my pyjamas.

After reading to the kids, I head back downstairs. I feel as if I have a lot to catch up on, so I do some quick domestic admin (including tackling the laundry mountain), before making a cup of tea and nipping back to my computer to finish a couple of easy work jobs, such as booking a couple of meetings and texting some people back. At about 10:30pm I make another cup of tea and sit down with my husband. We have a quick discussion about our day and talk about our plans for tomorrow. 

I end up watching half an hour of Gold Rush while I do some more domestic stuff on my phone, but end up feeling the pressure to go to bed before I actually have time to wind down, as its midnight and I’ve run out of day. My husband and I head upstairs to brush our teeth, and I read a few pages of my book before lights out.

“My husband and I head upstairs to brush our teeth, and I read a few pages of my book before lights out.”

I usually fall asleep pretty quickly actually – although there is always a sense of dread that the sleep thief (aka my poor sleeping 4-year-old) will appear. However, before I fall asleep tonight though my husband and I start a deep conversation, which lasts for about an hour. I feel better for getting it off my chest but I’m a bit annoyed because it’s now 1am. 

The conversation is brought to a close by the little one waking up and coming through. My husband tried to put him back to bed, but he ends up crying the house down and wake everybody. It takes until around 2am before everyone is asleep again.

In the morning we snooze the alarm between 7am and 8am, during which I have one of those horrible vivid half-awake snooze dreams which puts me in a funny mood. I have two cups of coffee in the first hour of being up, but don’t end up eating until 11am (brown toast with butter and jam) after getting caught up in work tasks.

Day 2

I’m tired after picking the kids up from school, but don’t end up having time for a nap. Instead, I sit down with the boys and do the Tesco online shop and then some online shopping. We eat tuna pasta together for tea at about 6pm.

I have a sudden realisation that I haven’t drunk any fluids other than coffee all day, so decide to have a licorice tea after dinner. I then take some work calls and arrange a few meetings on my phone before doing some more online shopping and a quick Facebook scroll, too. As a result, the kids are very late going to bed!  

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I head straight to bed after reading to the kids and chatting about their day – it’s about 10:30pm. We’re hopeful that a new motivation chart coupled with a late night will help the sleep thief to sleep through.

I spend some time tidying away some laundry in the bedroom before getting into bed about midnight. I’m absolutely knackered, so I don’t expect it to take long for me to fall asleep. My husband is still pottering about downstairs, but I doubt I’ll be able to stay awake until he comes up to bed.

Day 3

I wake up just before 6am because the little one is out of bed, so we get up to go to the toilet before heading back to bed for a snuggle and a snooze until 8am.

I’m feeling seriously exhausted, but manage to drag myself out of bed. After the school run I drive to meet a friend and don’t end up eating breakfast until 11:30am. The rest of the day is busy but not stressful.

We eat out at 7pm (I have breaded haddock and chips), and then head home and put the kids to bed. I then do some emails and sit down with a cup of tea in front of the TV while scouring Rightmove for potential houses.  

“I’m absolutely knackered, so I don’t expect it to take long for me to fall asleep.”

By 11:45pm I’m yawning, but struggle to summon the energy to actually go to bed. We’ve had a few nibbles on the kids Haribo and some pretzels, and I’m feeling sluggish and lethargic.

We eventually manage to get ourselves up to bed and chat for a bit before dropping off to sleep at about 1am. However, we’re disturbed at 2am by the little one sneaking in, and I have to get up and put him back to bed, where I end up falling asleep.

My alarm goes off at 7am and I manage to get straight up (although it is a struggle).

Day 4

My brain is feeling foggy today – probably from the repetitive nature of working from home.

I have some calls to jump on this evening so I have a coffee about 5pm, but I still feel quite tired. We then sit down to eat chicken, rice and vegetables for tea at 6pm – the little ones are staying at their Grandparents tonight so we could get our Covid-19 boosters. 

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I’m looking forward to an early night and a good sleep, but end up staying up just as late. However, I do feel slightly more relaxed, and feel as if I sleep deeply.

Day 5

It’s finally Friday, and I’ve been tired all week. To try and help myself feel better I grab a 20-minute power nap in the middle of the day, and although it takes me ages to come round from it, I’m pleased I’ve treated myself to a bit of ‘self-care’.

We did have our Covid-19 boosters yesterday, but I feel absolutely fine except the small bump on my arm. Of course, I feel tired, but I can’t really blame that on the jab.

I’m on calls until about 5:30pm this evening, and go to bed excited for a morning with no alarm. I end up waking up naturally around 10:30am and have coffee in bed while I scroll through my phone. I feel better than I have all week, and the kids also come through for a snuggle, which is glorious.

We don’t get going until the late morning, but all feel better for the natural wake-up. 

So, what does it all mean? A sleep expert offers her thoughts

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and professional physiologist, says: “Big changes are needed here. You need to follow my five non-negotiables sleep protocol as you’re exhausted, not getting enough quality sleep, running in survival mode, bringing up young kids and running a company – you need every trick in the book. 

“So, where do we start? I want to go softly with you but I fear a sledgehammer approach might be needed. You need to stop snoozing until 8am – the sleep you’re getting after 7am is ‘junk’ sleep and is fuelling your tiredness. Try to get up earlier and eat a protein-rich breakfast while getting the kids ready for school. It doesn’t need to be a luxurious sit-down job but you need to eat something e.g. a bowl of full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries and seeds or toast with almond butter. You also shouldn’t have any caffeine until you’ve had food and none after 2pm.”

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “On top of that, you need to get your hydration levels up and get to bed earlier. I love the supportive relationship you has with your husband but can you do the debrief earlier? You need more pre-midnight sleep at least four or five nights a week. And try to get more 20-minute power naps please – they’re so good for you, just don’t do them after 4pm.”

If you would like to take part in Stylist’s Sleep Diaries, please email us at [email protected] with your name, age and any sleep problems you’re dealing with, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lead image design: Ami O’Callaghan

Other images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

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